I LOVE Restaurant Wars. The chefs love it, the judges seem to love it, the fans eat it up. It's the challenge, other than winning the title of Top Chef, that everyone wants to shine. It's bragging rights. So there's a lot of pride on the line for an All Stars Restaurant Wars. Tre and Dale were eliminated for their role in their seasons of Restaurant Wars so there's also the redemption factor. Of the ten remaining chefs, four were on losing teams during their season. No one wants to be a two-time loser for this challenge. Already they've added a new twist by having a five chef team. In the past the most they've gone with is four chefs but I like this change. I think it allows the team to do more than trying to overload four chefs with prepping, cooking and having someone run the front of the house. As for the guest judge, it's our old friend from Top Chef Masters, Ludo Lefebvre. Ludo's here for a reason and that reason is his experimentation with pop-up restaurant experience.
Now this is kinda strange because hasn't this been the premise of Restaurant Wars all along? Create a restaurant for a night? (Don't think, Meat!) Not that I mind, Ludo is always fun although he's more fun when he's trying to cook. Onto team selection. Since Dale won the Quickfire, he has the honor of choosing the head of the other team. This cannot be easier for Dale.
Frankly many a TC Crack Monkey knew right then that it was over for whatever team Marcel put together. I knew why Dale did it but I think as a competition strategy I would have pit myself against my strongest opponent. Getting rid of Marcel is not that great an accomplishment, satisfying though it may have been. Competing head to head against Blaise or Angelo, that would have been classic but sadly it was not to be. So Dale picks Marcel and now Marcel gets to pick first from the remaining chefs to start his team. This is amazing because Marcel gets to make the team his own. Even if he had won the Quickfire, he would have never picked Dale to be on his team. He picks Angelo instead of Blaise because he's already had a bad team experience with Richard and Angelo seems to work fast and clean and easy to get along with. Dale, of course picks Blaise as his first pick. Marcel's next pick is a bit of a mystery, Mike. I would have thought he would have picked Tre. Dale's thinking that too because that's who he picks next. Marcel really let an opportunity slip away by not picking Fabio at this point but picks Antonia instead. You don't have to tell Dale twice as he snaps up Fabio. Marcel is left with Tiffany and Carla to choose between and again, he surprises me with Tiffany. Who is going to make your desserts Marcel? I don't recall Tiffany being all that experienced with desserts. So there are your teams.
It's at this point that Padma reveals the second twist. The Customers will decide the winning team. Down in Blogging Basement Central there was much rejoicing. There was also a little whispered wish that this twist would be permanent to all future Restaurant Wars if only for the minutest chance to see Tom's shiny head truly explode.
The teams split up to do a little planning. Right off the bat, Marcel's team runs into their first problem. Front of House. Because few of the chefs really respect the front of the house role, they look to their weakest chef to plug into that duty. Normally I might agree with them. Unfortunately the diners are deciding your fate this time around and a good front of house person can help your kitchen overcome a lot of problems. A bad one can turn the best food into mud. I get why Team Marcel pushed Tiffany into FOH instead of say, Mike. Mike didn't exactly shine in his expediter role during the Dim Sum Challenge besides his skills on the line should be better than Tiffany's level of experience. Tiffany for the second time during this challenge does not look happy.
Over at Team Dale, they don't even have to worry about this, they've got Fabio. They head straight into the concept design of their restaurant, suggested by Dale, as Bodega. Now I'm sure they didn't mean the Danish use of the word Bodega which means small bar but more of a salute to New York and the corner bodega or small convenience store. There is immediate acceptance of this concept. Back to Team Marcel, getting Tiffany as FOH was the first and last time they all agreed on something. They try and come up with a food focus and sort of settle on Mediterranean but what they all really want to do is nail down their own dish. Instead of trying to work as a team, they are five separate chefs who have been forced to work together. It's not pretty. Back at the loft, the planning continues. Team Dale starts planning dishes that play off their Bodega theme. Team Marcel (without Marcel) decide on Etch as the name of their restaurant. What the name Etch has to do with Mediterranean food doesn't make itself immediately apparent to me but it won't matter if the food is the best they can cook.
The next day finds our chefs arriving at their kitchen for the night. I applaud the producers for this episode. It takes a lot of balls to tempt the weather gods with a outdoor cooking, serving and shooting of this challenge. Much can go wrong shooting any reality show but an outdoors segment where a pop-up shower can make everyone's life miserable? Gutsy.
Work starts on all the dishes. Bodega's food sounds like stuff that would come out of a bodega, chips, bacon/egg and cheese, can of tuna, pork shoulder, blueberry pie and cheesecake. Etch's food is inspired by Mediterranean cuisine. Have you looked at a map of the countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea? Are we talking Northern Africa/Middle Eastern countries? How about the big three, Spain, France and Italy? Or perhaps we're feeling the love for Greece and Turkey? With such a vague influence, I guess anything goes. Eggs and chorizo, fluke crudo, octopus, monkfish, lamb, and ricotta gnudi round out the menu. No dessert is mentioned at this time. Because no one has thought of one?
Ahhhh, it wouldn't be Restaurant Wars without the shiny head of Chef Tom showing up for a little Peek and Prod. Absolutely nothing of interest is learned from his questions however he does reveal that one chef will win and for that win they will receive $10,000. The chefs barely notice, so deep they are into prep and cooking. Tom skulks away.
Time ticks away and Fabio begins his magic on the front of house. Tiffany....struggles with a six minute egg. Angelo makes a reasonable suggestion to leave off Marcel's foam (renamed Air for the purposes of making Marcel seem not so much the Captain of the Good Ship Foam which, for most folks, sailed away a long time ago) to cut down on plating time but Marcel will have none of it. Etch is looking and sounding like a big mess while Bodega is looking like Tranquility Bay.
Service finally starts and the madness begins. All the diners will eat at both restaurants, first one and then the other. It's at the beginning of service that we get a glimpse of old Dale, the Dale with anger management issues, the Dale that sometimes lets the stress get the best of him.
It could have been a nightmare and escalated into even more Dark Dale but not with Fabio there to calm him down. Not only does he calm him down, he keeps himself composed and in charge for his servers and never loses the charm factor he uses on the diners. Frankly he's becoming the Chef Whisperer. Antonia, over on the other side, thinks Etch's food is perfect. That is until the plates start coming back because of undercooked lamb, not to mention the instant dish critique Tiffany gets on her salad from the VIP laden table of Dana Cowin.
Oh look....it's the Judges....who don't get to decide who the winning restaurant is. What's it feel like to have no influence on who wins or loses??? Actually I can totally see Tom doing a little Chicago style voting...early and often.
Service on the Bodega side is flawless. The comments from the diners and the judges are good. I think one diner pinged Richard for putting the tuna in a can making it difficult to eat. That's it. It really doesn't get any better than that. Compared with the Etch dining experience? Not good right from the start, from the hostess not seating the judges, to the forced chattiness with the diners, to the slow pace of food getting to the table. Quick or slow, the food does not help their cause. No winners in their first course of salad and crudo. Back in the kitchen diner complaints about cold dishes and unappetizing food push the chefs into sniping at each other. Second courses do no better than a "like" for the octopus dish and the label of mushy baby food for the monkfish. The next course of ricotta gnudi gets the dread "too salty" for the sauce but praise for the gnudi itself. The lamb chops don't actually get any complaints while the judges are eating them unlike the "dessert" and I only use that term loosely because I still don't get what that last thing with the dry ice was with it's foams and powders.
So is there really any reason to go to Judge's Table? Apparently the only person who thinks they did a bang up job is Marcel even when the Black Hammer tries to bring a little reality into his world, Marcel can't get away from Debby Downer quick enough.
Not to worry Marcel, you'll soon be away from them all. However if ever there should have been a challenge where there was a double elim (or even a triple) this was it. Really, Mike did himself no favors with his performance. Is Marcel a dick? Oh yeah but does that really mean you have to match him dickness for dickness? Did you really have to make it a battle of the Dickiest? I know from where I'm sitting I'd have to call it a draw because if you look at the scorecard that really matters, 17 out of 76 is a massive failure on all levels. Of course it's evident how you earned that scorecard with the team wide bus tossing that played out for Tom and the crew. I don't know how the judges picked the losing-est of losers but they settled on Marcel, more than likely because he just doesn't have the people skills to get people that don't respect him to do what he wants. Etch unwittingly makes a deep mark in Top Chef history by getting totally whooped up on by Bodega and Richard Blaise, winner of All Stars Restaurant Wars. I suspect we have seen the last of Marcel and his love of foams, at least on Bravo. Can't vouch for the SciFi Channel.